T. Judd served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints in Uruguay where he lived on the border for some
time in Rivera and Artigas, border towns with Quaraí and Santana
do Livramento, Rio Grande do Sul. M.A. in Hispanic Linguistics
(2006) B.A. in Spanish Teaching with minors in Portuguese and
English as a Second Language from Brigham Young University, Provo,
Utah, USA. Master's Thesis: "The Origins and Identification
of Mixed Dialects along the Brazilian -Uruguayan Border: A Review
of Studies in Contact Linguistics" Originally from Madison,
New Jersey, currently living in Spanish Fork, Utah.
Fronteiriço Dialect of Uruguay:
Origins, Investigations, and
one of the smallest countries in all of South America, was
previously believed to be a monolingual country. But when linguists
began to study and describe the Spanish there around the middle of
the last century, they became aware of significant linguistic
hybridization which had developed all along the northern border with
Brazil. A shift in linguistic dominance from Portuguese to Spanish
took place only after the independence of Uruguay due to the
establishment of settlements along the border, giving rise to the
peculiar border speech commonly identified today as either portuñol,
fronterizo, or DPU (dialectos
portugueses del Uruguay).
reality of the linguistic contact situation is in fact not the
influence of Portuguese on the Spanish language, but rather the
influence of Spanish on a well-established Portuguese base. Research
on the resulting border dialect has been limited to few researchers
who have studied it from the perspectives of dialectology, language
contact, geographical linguistics, phonology, morphology, syntax,
and lexicology. Studies in sociolinguistics and language policy have
also been done in order to better understand and assess the
linguistic situation. In this article, a brief summary will be
provided of the history of the region as it relates to contact
between Portuguese and Spanish and the emergence of this very
intriguing mixed dialect spoken all along the Brazilian-Uruguayan
border. The terminology chosen to describe this mixed dialect will
also be addressed as well as the areas of its influence or usage.
And finally, there is an assessment of the studies performed to-date
and ideas for further research opportunities.
History of the region
Alma Pedretti de Bolón (1983) underlined the connection
between history and language when she wrote, “la historia de una
lengua va unida indisolublemente a la historia del pueblo que la
habla” (p. 19). Elizaincín et al. (1987) also affirmed the
following concerning the particular fronterizo dialect,
“vano será pues tratar de entender una situación tan compleja
como la que estudiamos sin un mínimo marco de referencia histórico-sociólogo
this in mind, and in order to understand the interaction between the
two languages under consideration and the peoples who spoke them, it
is necessary to retrace history as far back as the disputes between
Spain and Portugal upon discovering the New World.
priests from Spain were some of the first Europeans to inhabit the
vast and lush region constituting Rio Grande do Sul, and parts of
Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay, establishing themselves at the
beginning of the seventeenth century. Despite their physical
presence in the region, however, they seemed to have little impact
on the linguistic reality of the area. According
Fuertes Álvarez (1964),
“los jesuitas poco influyeron en la lengua… puesto que, en vez
de hacer estudiar el español a los indios eran ellos los que aprendían
el guaraní” (p. 362).
Portuguese boldly founded Colonia do Sacramento in 1680. The colony
was located directly across the River Plate from Buenos Aires and
was intended to challenge Spanish power and authority in the region.
Treaties continued to establish and reestablish territorial
boundaries to the north and east of the territory known as
the Banda Oriental, what is today the country of Uruguay.
Although the new boundaries pushed the Portuguese back, they did
nothing to reduce Portugal’s desire to add this region to its
1816, Portugal annexed all of the Oriental Province of Uruguay under
the name of Província Cisplatina. This state of affairs lasted until 1828 when
the nation of Brazil (independent from Portugal since 1822) finally
recognized the independence of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay.
This Portuguese-Brazilian occupation represented an increase in the
number of Brazilian settlers in all of Uruguay. Rona (1965) explains the effect of this occupation as follows:
[Esta] invasión portuguesa…
trajo consigo un notable incremento de la colonización portuguesa
hasta los últimos confines meridionales, en las orillas del Río de
la Plata. Obtenida la independencia definitiva, esta corriente
colonizadora no decayó, sino que terminó por poblar con
portugueses y brasileños todo el norte del Uruguay. Por lo tanto,
la base étnica y, en consecuencia, lingüística de toda esta zona
es portuguesa, no española. (p. 8)
presence of Brazilian Portuguese along the newly established border
became an issue of increasing concern. Accordingly, with “una
clara conciencia… de que [era] necesario ‘defender’ la lengua
española” (Elizaincín, 1984, p. 94), the Uruguayan Parliament
founded, between 1853 and 1862, a number of rival settlements on the
border including Santa Rosa (now Bella Unión), Cuareim (now Artigas),
Treinta y Tres, Villa Artigas (now Río Branco), and Villa Ceballos
was used as an instrument to promote Uruguayan nationalism and,
specifically, the spread of Spanish as Uruguay’s national language.
José Pedro Varela (1845–1879), a very influential educator at the
time, testified concerning the overwhelming Brazilian influences to
the north. As noted by Elizaincín (1992a), Varela alleged that “el
Brasil…domina con sus súbditos…casi todo el Norte de la República:
en toda esta zona, hasta el idioma nacional se ha perdido ya [italics
added], puesto que es el portugués el que se habla con más
generalidad” (p. 99). In light of the fact that the border
population was overwhelmingly Brazilian, Elizaincín wisely
clarifies the linguistic situation reported by Varela, “El idioma
español no se habló más que esporádicamente; en este sentido
suena hoy un poco ingenua la afirmación de Varela … por cuanto no
pudo haberse perdido lo que nunca estuvo definitivamente afirmado”
(p.100). Elizaincín (1984) asserts
that “diversas medidas tomadas en el campo demográfico,
poblacional y educativo fueron insertando el español en las zonas
en que el portugués había estado desde siempre, por así decirlo”
construction of schools to counteract the linguistic dominance of
Brazilian Portuguese in border communities took place mainly between
1867 and 1878, but concern for the learning of the national language
continues today. Countless Brazilian citizens still live, work, and
buy land in Uruguay due to an extremely permeable border between the
two countries. Data showing the establishment of Uruguayans, however,
in Rio Grande do Sul and Brazil is not clear.
with the border communities remained irregular and difficult as
recently as the middle of last century. According to Rona (1963), “la carretera de Montevideo a Rocha se abrió
apenas en 1940 y la de Rivera solamente en 1953” (p. 204). The
border towns have thus grown together with hardly any contact with
the major cities of the interior of their respective countries and,
therefore, “las ciudades a todo lo largo de la frontera son
gemelas y constituyen virtualmente, en cada caso, una sola ciudad”
(p. 204). The actual border between many of these twin cities is
nothing more than a common street which displays the Brazilian flag
on one side and the Uruguayan flag on the other. Rivera and Santana
do Livramento typify such cities. In other twin communities, the
national border is simply a stream or a river whose crossing is
facilitated by a bridge, as is the case with Artigas and Quaraí.
summary it is apparent, as explained by Elizaincín (1984), that
“la historia del español en la zona interior del Uruguay es, en
realidad, un ejemplo de lucha constante con el portugués” (p.
93). But, once more, as Elizaincín et al. (1987) clarify, “no se
trata de una influencia del portugués sobre el castellano (ya que
no había aquí población hispánica antes de la llegada y
establecimiento de los brasileños), sino, al revés, de la
influencia del castellano sobre una base portuguesa” (p. 8). The
Uruguayan settlers with their Spanish culture, heritage, and
language saw the necessity to confront the influence of the
Portuguese language and Brazilian culture within their own
the Portuguese-speaking Brazilian population were already settled
well across the border before Spanish-speaking Uruguayan
nationalists began to establish themselves in significant numbers in
the same area, then we must accept that the border dialect or fronterizo
began to develop and emerge in the last 150 years. Furthermore, if
the diffusion of the Portuguese language was apparent in 1853, it is
unfortunate that more than a century should have to pass before
linguists, such as Rona, encountered a border speech and began to
identify and describe it. Since fronterizo is considered a linguistic anomaly, this lack of
attention may be due to linguistic bias, purist views, or even
prescriptive attitudes, such as those of José Pedro Varela and
other linguistic policy makers promoting nationalism at the time.
Identification of the border dialect
search of the literature reveals that the first linguist to
investigate and describe the linguistic situation along the
Brazilian-Uruguayan border was José Pedro Rona. His findings were
communicated at the ‘I Congresso Brasileiro de Dialectologia e
Etnografia’ in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, which took
place from September 1 through 7, 1958 (published in 1963). In this first study, Rona (1963) observes that the
dialect which has formed along the border is “una mezcla de
portugués y español, pero que no es ni portugués ni español y
resulta con frecuencia ininteligible tanto para los brasileños como
para los uruguayos” (p. 208). Rona
also seems to have been the first to record a name for the dialect. He
noted, “[este] dialecto intermedio recibe aquí [en la frontera]
el nombre de ‘dialecto fronterizo’” (p. 202). Fronterizo
is still used as a reference term at the present.
general acceptance of the term fronterizo,
however, Elizaincín and others found an alternative
designation for this dialect. The term which came to be preferred (Elizaincín,
1984) was dialectos portugueses del Uruguay (abbreviated
DPU). Elizaincín et al. (1987) explain how and why they came to
prefer the term DPU to that of fronterizo. First of all, the term dialecto “se justifica por ser, quizás el más neutro de todos y
en el sentido diatópico, más o menos tradicional, forma de hablar
peculiar de una zona determinada del territorio nacional” (p. 13).
Secondly, the plural dialectos
is meaningful in that “responde a nuestra visión del fenómeno
como una situación intrínsicamente variable” (p. 13). Finally,
the adjective portugueses
explains that “se trata de formas mixtas de base
preponderantemente portuguesa, las que, sin embargo evidencian
fuerte influencia del español” (Elizaincín et al., 1987, p. 14).
to Elizaincín et al. (1987), the most common designations of this
border speech or, in other words, “las formas como los mismos
hablantes las reconocen” (p. 12), are carimbão,
basano, brasilero, and portuñol.
first two terms “sólo se conoce[n] en ciertas zonas rurales del
norte del departamento de Tacuarembó; no [son] por lo tanto
designación común en toda la zona fronteriza” (p. 12). Brasilero
is defined as “la forma más neutra en el estrato popular” (p.
13), and portuñol is characterized as “la designación más neutra que
puede oírse de miembros cultos de la comunidad urbana” (p. 12). These
authors essentially reject the term fronterizo
since in their opinion, “la designación es demasiado amplia: en
realidad cualquier lenguaje que surja y se use en una frontera es un
‘fronterizo’” (p. 13), and do not even include it as one of
the terms used by the general native population to refer to this
particular type of speech.
Geography of the border dialect
(1965) has come to the conclusion that “la verdadera frontera lingüística
entre el español y el portugués se encuentra en el Uruguay” (p.
8). However, concerning the existence of the unique border speech,
he explains, “cuando examinamos la zona de encuentro de estas dos
lenguas, observamos la ausencia total de una neta línea divisoria”
(Rona, 1963, p. 202). According
to Rona, then, there exists a fuzzy transition from Portuguese to
Spanish. Elizaincín (1976) suggests the transition from Brazilian
Portuguese to Uruguayan Spanish may be something similar to a
linguistic continuum, as seen in northern Spain (see p. 123).
addition to establishing the extent of Portuguese linguistic
influence across the border, Rona (1963) also determined at first
that there were basically three distinct zones of Portuguese
influence (see p. 207). According to him, they ran all along the
Brazilian-Uruguayan border and were mainly identifiable by their
or provinces. Rona invited Brazilian linguists to study
the phenomenon within Brazilian territory (all along their national
border), but nothing has been done to date.
challenge faced by the linguists who embarked on the first
approximations to the understanding of the notable border speech was
to capture the variability of the border dialects spoken throughout
the entire region while also offering a composite picture of their
general location and of the distribution of their isoglosses. Elizaincín
et al. (1987) ultimately seem to understand this dilemma when they
state, “quizás extremar la apreciación y decir que hay tantos
‘fronterizos’ como habitantes de la frontera no sería adecuado”
is apparently an extremely large body of data which will be
published with the Atlas Lingüístico del Uruguay. This project is yet unfinished;
however, upon its completion linguistic maps will naturally also be
provided. This corpus will represent the largest of its kind and
will undoubtedly shed much light on this particular contact
situation. It may as well open doors for new opportunities to study
or compare and contrast in greater depth that which has been studied
in the areas of phonetics, phonology, morphology, and lexicon.
Without a doubt, all those who are interested in this branch of
linguistics are looking forward to the discoveries and insights
which are concealed for the moment in this project.
fronterizo dialect as a whole may be defined not as a Portuguese
influence on the Spanish language, but rather the influence of
Spanish on a well-established Portuguese base. Uruguayans were
confronted with the necessity to push back the Portuguese influence
and fight against the flow of an opposing culture within their own
is still much which may be discovered, clarified, or confirmed
regarding fronterizo. Adolfo Elizaincín and Fritz Hensey both recognize the
need to gather more data and acquire a larger corpus. The Atlas Lingüístico del Uruguay should provide additional reliable
information which in turn can be compared to previous studies and
findings. Studies of the morphology and syntax of fronterizo
have received the most attention and are the most complete as is
observed in Elizaincín et al. (1987). The postulation of
simplification therein, which occurs not only in the morphology and
the syntax of fronterizo, but also in the phonology, once again, warrants a larger
corpus to confirm and advance this theory. The least amount of
research has been dedicated to the lexicon.
difficulty of finding monolingual fronterizo
speakers is an obstacle in the study of the mixed dialects. Hensey
(1972) expresses his concern that with increased education available
to border residents “including knowledge of standard Spanish…it
is doubtful if fronterizo will long continue as anyone’s sole language” (p.
78). In fact, much of the current research dedicated to the study of
pure fronterizo has
actually overlapped either intentionally or unintentionally with
studies of language interference and bilingualism (see Hensey,
(1993) has recognized that “Uruguayan Portuguese is an obvious
candidate for variation study” (p. 447). The study of variation is
included in the sociolinguistic research which has been given
considerable attention. Surveys and studies concerning language
attitudes and language prestige as seen by speakers of the dialects
have been ascertained by both Hensey and Elizaincín. Furthermore,
Elizaincín has sought to compare DPU with other pidgin languages in
order to establish relationships between the characteristics of DPU
and language contact phenomena elsewhere. Other areas of research
include the educational implications of the affect of imposing
standard Spanish on fronterizo,
the issue of language policy, and the option of standardization of
the dialect. These topics may be discussed in more detail at a later
vast majority of the research to date of the contact situation has
been focused on locales closest to the border. Rivera has received
most of the attention, but Elizaincín et al. (1987) expanded their
range of survey from Artigas to Río Branco. Only the most recent
publications have begun to look at other areas of the northern
region where there has been intense language contact in the past.
The distinct speech evidenced in these areas has been named español
rural fronterizo (ERF) (see Elizaincín and Barrios, 1989), and
still other forms of border speech have been recognized as
“varieties of rural Spanish with no present-day contact with DPU
… [but which] evidence a perceptible influence of Portuguese” (Elizaincín,
1995a, p. 119). These rural varieties of Uruguayan Spanish are
located farther away southward from the border into the northern
interior of Uruguay. Further studies could reveal residual
influences of the contact which occurred between Spanish and
Portuguese in these more isolated locations. Hence, one could come
to the conclusion that there are still abundant opportunities to
expand into areas which have received less attention and identify,
describe, and study the effects of language contact. Nevertheless,
if further studies of rural Spanish influenced by Portuguese are to
be done, Hensey (1975) urges that they be done soon (see p. 59).
Atlas Lingüístico del Uruguay is purportedly designed to cover the
entire northeastern area of the country (see maps, Elizaincín,
1995b, pp. 222-223) which will shed light on phonetic, morphologic,
lexical, and semantic phenomena. In regards to the longevity of DPU,
Elizaincín (1995a) has wisely noted,
The processes of
urbanization and the concomitant possibility of access to higher
levels of instruction, involving closer contact with Spanish, are
factors contributing to the displacement of Portuguese, to its
perpetuation as a household language, and to its lack of prestige
among those who are fluent in Spanish, and especially among
policy among Uruguayans has always been that of protecting and
maintaining national identity through the knowledge of Spanish as
the national language.
as is mentioned by Rona (1963), it is a very real possibility that
other mixed dialects exist in other Spanish-speaking countries which
share borders with Brazil, the Coloso
del Sur. Since that time, however, no attention has been given
to these opportunities for further research. Exploration into this
matter and possible identification and study should be undertaken by
the major universities of the countries which may have experienced
this language contact, especially if it has been attested to by
border residents that a portuñol
variety of speech is being used. In turn these findings may be
compared to the more complete studies undertaken on DPU in Uruguay.
As always, a greater understanding may be obtained if there are more
researchers with new ideas and points of view.
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